Flies on the Wall Inside China’s Prison System

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Flies on the Wall Inside China’s Prison System

27th June 2023 @ 11:00 am - 12:00 pm

Shanghai’s Qingpu Prison was at the centre of a forced labour scandal which came to light after revelatory reports in the press worldwide at Christmas in 2019, when it was discovered that foreign prisoners there were subjected to forced labour and had been packaging Tesco Christmas cards and Quaker oats. Efforts to investigate business arrangements and abuse in Chinese prisons are hampered by the prisons being closed to independent auditors and journalists. China’s entire prison system is effectively a commercial enterprise and profit centre for the Chinese state, according to prisoners released from Qingpu and other Chinese prisons.

Marius Balo, a Romanian who went to China to teach English, ended up spending 8 years in its prisons for a crime he did not commit, including two years spent in a ‘12-sq meter cage’ with no way to contact anyone in the outside world. Peter Humphrey, a British citizen, is a former foreign correspondent, due diligence investigator and sinologist who spent two years in Chinese prisons on a trumped up charge of “illegally gathering personal information”, which he denies. Following his deportation in 2015, Peter filed a detailed complaint to the Chinese government on the abuses he endured in the hands of the Shanghai authorities and has since taken many actions to expose judicial and penal abuses.

The Henry Jackson Society is delighted to welcome you to a discussion where our distinguished panellists will share their own experiences as ‘flies on the wall’ inside China’s prison system and as eyewitnesses to the conditions and coerced labour that foreign and Chinese prisoners endure.



Benedict Rogers is a human rights activist specialising in freedom of religion or belief, and is the recipient of the International Religious Freedom (IRF) Summit’s award for Champion of Effective Advocacy, and the International Catholic Legislators Network (ICLN)’s St Thomas More Award for advocacy for freedom of religion or belief. For almost 30 years Benedict has been involved with the international human rights organisation CSW, specialising in freedom of religion or belief, and was employed full-time by CSW from 2003-2020, specialising in Myanmar/Burma, North Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. He now serves as CSW’s Senior Analyst for East Asia. He is also the co-founder and Chief Executive of Hong Kong Watch, and served as the Chair of Trustees of Hong Kong Watch from 2017-2020. He is co-founder and Deputy Chair of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, a member of the advisory group of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC), an advisor to the World Uyghur Congress, Senior Analyst for East Asia at CSW, a trustee of several other charities, author of seven books and a regular contributor to international media. His new book, The China Nexus: Thirty Years In and Around the Chinese Communist Party’s Tyranny, was published by Optimum Publishing International in October 2022. Between 1997 and 2002, he lived and worked as a journalist in Hong Kong, and in 2003 he lived and worked in Washington, DC. He is based in London.



Marius Balo is a 42-year-old Romanian theologian and teacher. He graduated from St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in Yonkers, New York, and holds a Master of Divinity degree. He has worked in the field of peace building and conflict transformation as a project coordinator for PATRIR (Peace Action Training and Research Institute of Romania). He has also taught theology and was a talk-show host in his hometown, Cluj-Napoca. In 2010 he decided to move to China and took up a job as an English teacher. In 2014 he was wrongfully arrested along with all the staff of a Chinese company for whom he worked as a minor part-time employee. The company was accused of contract frauds which Marius had known nothing about.

He spent the next two years in a 12-sq meter cage with no way to contact anyone in the outside world, and a further six years in the same Shanghai prison as Peter Humphrey. Marius will describe his ordeal and the conditions that he witnessed in his remarks to the Henry Jackson Society. He was released in March 2022. Immediately upon his release he set out, on foot, on a 2922-km pilgrimage around Romania, to spotlight the injustice done to him and to other victims of Communism, by walking 1 km for each day of his wrongful imprisonment. Eight years amounts to 2,922 days. He completed his pilgrimage on December 1, Romania’s national day. He has just written a novel about his harrowing experience in China’s Communist jails. He is collaborating with Peter on a number of projects to spotlight injustice and prison conditions in China.



Peter Humphrey is a 67-year-old British citizen from Surrey with 48 years of experience with China. He holds a first class honours degree in sinology from Durham University and is an external research associate of Harvard University’s Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies. He spent two decades as a foreign correspondent both in communist Eastern Europe (as it was at the time) and the China region, mostly with Reuters. He then spent 15 years as an anti-fraud and due diligence consultant with Kroll, PwC, and, for the final ten years, running his own consultancy, ChinaWhys. In July 2013 he and his wife were arrested and imprisoned on charges of illegal information gathering after conducting an investigation for GSK. They spent two years in Chinese prisons during which time Peter developed advanced prostate cancer as medical treatment was deliberately withheld in a bid to coerce a false confession. He was the first prominent member of the foreign business community in China to be imprisoned by the Xi Jinping regime and the case attracted extensive media coverage. He was also the first foreigner to be paraded in a cage on Chinese television in a notorious broadcast of a false and forced TV confession.

Since his release Peter has fought his cancer and many other non-medical battles. He published a viral, harrowing account of his ordeal in the Financial Times Weekend Magazine in 2018. He won an out of court settlement from his former client in 2022 after six years of litigation. He fought a campaign against Chinese TV which resulted in the regulator Ofcom removing CGTN’s UK broadcast licence. He wrote a series of exclusive investigation reports for the Sunday Times around Christmas 2019 exposing the use of forced labour among foreign prisoners in China, centred upon the packaging of Tesco Christmas cards and Quaker oats by foreign prisoners. He filed a complaint to the Chinese government after his release, exposing those responsible for his arbitrary imprisonment, which has been ignored. Peter is today a mentor to many families suffering similar ordeals. He has built his own prisoner support and intelligence network, which includes released prisoners, and Marius Balo has been one of his mentees. Peter has also advised on many documentaries on China in recent years and is often interviewed by the media for his insights into justice and imprisonment in China.



Marc Sidwell is Director of Research at The Henry Jackson Society. He has worked as a senior editor for the Telegraph and City A.M. and as publisher for the New Statesman. Marc has also written regularly for publications including Telegraph, The Critic, National Review and City A.M. He is a Senior Fellow at the New Culture Forum, and a graduate of Oxford and Warwick.






The Henry Jackson Society was pleased to welcome Benedict Rogers, Peter Humphrey and Marius Balo to discuss the reality of the Chinese prison system. Peter Humphrey began by sharing his harrowing ordeal in QingPu prison, where he was wrongly incarcerated from 2013 to 2015 under false charges of ‘information gathering in due diligence work.’ He emphasized that Chinese prisons failed to embody a just legal system and highlighted the existence of detention centers where prisoners were held until authorities extract coerced confessions. Peter exposed the lack of fairness in the trial process, noting that 99.9% of prosecutions result in convictions. He concluded by offering recommendations to the UK government, suggesting the abandonment of their non-intervention policy and the imposition of mandatory due diligence requirements on the UK firms to ensure the absence of prison labor within the supply chain. Marius Balo in his turn recounted his more recent experience in Shanghai’s prison. Marius was working part-time for a Chinese company accused of contract fraud in 2014, unbeknownst to him. This led to his wrongful imprisonment for eight years, including two years in the dehumanizing detention centers. During those two years, Marius endured abhorrent living conditions and complete isolation from the outside world. Upon his transfer to the prison, Marius witnessed the appalling reality of the Chinese prison system, which is far from just. Officials exploited healthcare as a means to extract written confessions, resulting in many prisoners being denied timely and appropriate medical attention. Benedict Rogers concluded the discussion by emphasizing that Chinese prisoners were genuine victims of human rights abuses. He implored governments to open their eyes to the harm and mistreatment innocent foreigners endure in Chinese prisons, which, according to Benedict, are profit-seeking commercial enterprises for the State.




27th June 2023
11:00 am - 12:00 pm


Millbank Tower, 21-24 Millbank, London, England, SW1P 4QP
21-24 Millbank
Westminster, SW1P 4QP United Kingdom
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Henry Jackson Society
+44 (0) 20 7340 4520


Benedict Rogers, Marius Balo, Peter Humprey


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